Children are social creatures—they like to be around kids, especially in the preschool years. Witnessing a couple (or more) 4-5 year olds playing can be a beautiful thing—there’s a lot of discussion, negotiation, and compromise necessary in and amongst the imagination, creativity and inventiveness.
Of course parents of toddlers want to give them chances to socialize with children, but it’s important to have the right mindset—and know what the reasonable expectations—before arranging playdates for toddlers. For the unprepared or unaware, toddlers, playdates and toys can be a recipe for disaster!
What it boils down to…to prevent a meltdown: Toddlers simply are not developmentally capable of sharing. The very young children don’t grasp the concept of sharing and certainly can’t fully implement it until around 4 or 5 years of age. BUT that doesn’t mean you can’t start laying the groundwork for sharing!
- Model generosity: At snack time, have something you know your child likes on your plate. When she shows interest ask, “Would you like a bite?”
- Acknowledge generosity: If, however briefly, your child offers you one of her favorite Duplos be sure to follow-up with some type of recognition of her generosity, “That was thoughtful of you to share your Duplos with me. I appreciated that.”
- Role play: Discuss how a playdate happens! Everyone is more at ease when they have an understanding of what’s likely to be expected of them and an idea of how things are going to go.
- Do NOT force a child to give up their toy: If Johnny is actively playing with a toy, he is involved in important work. It doesn’t matter if Jackie—who’s a guest even—would like to play with that toy (RIGHT NOW!) too. One phrase I always taught the preschool kidlets to say: “I’ll give it to you when I’m finished.” It lets the other child know they’re next in line, but it also gives the child playing the autonomy over that toy. Luckily young kids’ attentions usually can be diverted fairly easily to something else—offer another toy to Jackie, reassuring him Johnny’ll give him the toy when his finished.
Other factors to consider when developing a strategy for a successful playdate for the very young:
- Put away toys that are extra special—there’s no need to set your child up for failure. If you know your son has just gotten his favorite puzzle and would have a hard time sharing it, put it up and out of sight.
- Playdate potluck—another idea is to suggest to the other parents that they bring a few toys along when they come to visit/play. When Johnny sees Jackie’s brought some toys over too it’ll make it easier for Johnny to share. Two sayings come to mind: The grass looks greener on the other side AND The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
- ‘Themed’ playdates—yes this is the preschool teacher coming out, but when you have a theme to a playdate with all the toys relating to that theme, no one toy stands out from the others. So, in theory anyway, all the toys should be equally appealing.
- Include sensory activities—Even if you’ve gone through the above steps and have prepared your child for playdates—everyone has a bad day now and again. When that happens it’s a good idea to bring out sensory activities. Sensory activities provide an acceptable and safe way for children to express and dissipate (sometimes big) emotions. Examples of sensory activities: water play in a shallow tub; tub of colored rice with accessories like funnels, scoops, spoons, etc; or clay or AromatheraPLAY™ dough to pound, punch or knead.
And to further reduce the likelihood of hearing
“Give it back to me!”
“NO, that’s MINE!”
“I WANT it NOW!”
“That’s NOT fair!”
or things spiraling downward into tears and tantrums:
- RENT toys for your playdate—That way the toys are neither “mine” nor “theirs”, but ours…to be shared and played!
- Parents: Be nearby —There may be clashes or squabbles, it’s not unusual when kids get together. Parents should be nearby, but resist the urge to jump in and referee the situation too quickly. Instead try to observe and let play serve its purpose. If the dynamics of the play are positive enough, hold back. Self-directed learning, which play embodies, has the greatest, long-lasting value. Of course, if the situation deteriorates you must step, in re-directing as necessary.
- Remember: Play is the natural and best mode of learning for young children! Children develop through various play stages–each one serving a useful purpose. Honor and enjoy where your child IS and look towards where they’ll be…
Let me know if you try any of the above suggestions and how it went OR if you have another tactic for your playdate experiences.
Yours in Play!